On November 30, 2007, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released an updated report on the infrastructure and performance of the Iraqi Security Forces. The report criticizes the Department of Defense’s overly optimistic reporting on progress, concluding that GAO cannot “find sufficient evidence for an assessment of ‘independent’ or ‘fully independent’ for any [Iraqi Security Forces] unit” and that classifying any Iraqi unit as independent is “confusing and misleading.” (GAO 18)
The GAO report illustrates the enormous challenges that lie ahead:
The [Iraqi Ministry of Defense] and [Iraqi Ministry of the Interior] face significant challenges in developing their logistic, command and control, and intelligence capabilities. Two factors, in particular, have thwarted their development–the persistence of high levels of violence and sectarianism and a lack of ministerial capacity. As a result, the ability of both ministries to maintain and sustain their forces, provide effective command and control of their forces, and provide their forces with intelligence is undermined and cannot be accomplished without Coalition support. (GAO 18)
This assessment corroborates the findings of the Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq, chaired by General James Jones (USMC, ret.). The Jones Commission reported in September 2007 that the Iraqi Security Forces have made “uneven progress” and would be “unable to fulfill their essential security responsibilities independently over the next 12-18 months.” (Jones Commission 8)
During 2005 and 2006, the Bush administration was fond of using the formulation “As Iraqis stand up, we will stand down.” The 2006 midterm elections, the resignation of former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and the ascension of General David Petraeus to lead U.S. forces in Iraq set the stage for the new surge policy to be instituted in early 2007. The training of Iraqi Security Forces, however, has remained a key part of U.S. strategic planning for Iraq. Explaining the rationale behind the surge in his address on January 10, 2007, President Bush remarked:
In keeping with the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, we will increase the embedding of American advisers in Iraqi Army units, and partner a coalition brigade with every Iraqi Army division. We will help the Iraqis build a larger and better-equipped army, and we will accelerate the training of Iraqi forces, which remains the essential U.S. security mission in Iraq.
Most of the presidential candidates of both parties consider training Iraqi Security Forces to be an integral mission for U.S. forces in Iraq in the years ahead. This includes Democratic candidates Joseph Biden, Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, and Barack Obama, all of whom have endorsed force reductions coupled with transitioning the mission to targeted counterterrorism operations, protecting American infrastructure and diplomatic personnel, and training Iraqi Security Forces. Bill Richardson and Ron Paul are the only presidential candidates to consistently support withdrawing all U.S. forces from Iraq as soon as logistically possible with no residual presence.
On November 14, 2007, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 4156, a bill that provided $50 billion in war funds and mandated that as of December 15, 2008, U.S. armed forces may be deployed to Iraq only for three specific missions, one of which was training and equipping Iraqi Security Forces. The bill, which two days later failed in the Senate, would have poured $500 million into Iraqi Security Force development.
The main sticking point which led to H.R. 4156’s failure in the Senate was setting a target date as a “goal” for withdrawing most U.S. forces from Iraq. Leaving residual U.S. forces in Iraq tasked with the specific mission of training and equipping Iraqi Security Forces was not a major point of contention between the parties. There is a good chance that war funding legislation considered by Congress in early 2008 will retain this provision while possibly expunging the more controversial “goal” for withdrawal.
Whether President Bush will veto Congress’s latest attempt to dictate future American missions in Iraq remains unclear, but the White House has opposed such congressional restrictions in the past.
INVESTMENT AND OVERSIGHT
The Iraqi government has made noteworthy expenditures in developing its own security forces. In calendar year 2007, it budgeted $4.14 billion for the Ministry of Defense and $3.18 billion for the Ministry of the Interior, with the Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq anticipating total spending by Iraq on Iraqi Security Forces development to total $11.6 billion in 2008. (Jones Commission 36)
American investment in developing Iraq’s indigenous security capacity has already been substantial. According to GAO, since 2003 the United States has provided approximately $19.2 billion to train and equip Iraqi Security Forces. An additional $2.0 billion was requested in addition to this total for Fiscal Year 2008.
Despite this substantial investment, oversight of the Iraqi Security Forces Fund (ISFF) has been lackluster. On November 30, the same day GAO released its report, the Department of Defense Inspector General released an audit of Iraqi Security Forces Fund expenditures in Fiscal Year 2005. As the graph above illustrates, Congress appropriated $5.7 billion for ISFF in Fiscal Year 2005, $5.2 billion of which went to Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq.
The Inspector General’s report concludes:
“Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq was not able to demonstrate proper accountability for and management of the Iraq Security Forces Fund and could not always demonstrate that the delivery of services, equipment, and construction was properly made to the Iraq Security Forces. As a result, the Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq was unable to provide reasonable assurance that Iraq Security Forces Fund achieved the intended results, that resources were used in a manner consistent with the mission, and that the resources were protected from waste and mismanagement.” (DOD IG Summary)
One huge problem the Inspector General highlighted was equipment purchases by the ISFF. As the audit points out, “MNSTC-I did not demonstrate proper accountability for and management of ISF purchases and could not always demonstrate that the delivery of equipment was properly made to ISF.” (DOD IG 3)
No process exists within the Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq for tracking equipment purchases. During Fiscal Year 2005, the period of the audit, this lack of oversight left the Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq unable to account for 18 of 31 heavy tracked recovery vehicles, 2,126 of 2,943 generators, 6 of 18 garbage trucks, four fuel tankers, five tractor trailers, and six low-boy trailers. This unaccounted-for equipment had a combined price tag of $19.5 million. Furthermore, Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq could not provide sufficient documentation to account for some $438.3 million in Military Interdepartmental Purchase Request (MIPRs) sample equipment obligations. In fact, 99% of equipment-related MIPRs were untraceable. (DOD IG 7-11)
Another alarming fact uncovered by the Inspector General was that Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq could not verify that Iraqi Security Forces received 12,712 of 13,508 light weapons. These 13,508 weapons included 7,002 pistols, 3,230 assault rifles, 2,389 rocket-propelled grenade launchers, and 887 machine guns. This corroborates previous GAO reporting that the United States cannot account for 30% of the weapons provided to Iraq since 2004. (DOD IG 9)
To explain Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq’s shortcomings in oversight, look no further than its available oversight personnel in comparison to other Army commands. The table below illustrates an alarming trend: Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq has a bigger budget and a more critical national security role, but it does not have the auditors or comptrollers necessary to complete its oversight mission.
|Command||Auditors||Comptrollers||FY 2007 Budget|
|Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq||1||16||$5.5 billion|
|U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command||8||64||$3.2 billion|
|U.S. Army Forces Command||6||47||$3.0 billion|
|U.S. Army Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command, Life Cycle Management||7||45||$3.6 billion|
Source: Department of Defense Inspector General analysis of Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq data. See “Management of the Iraq Security Forces Fund in Southwest Asia – Phase III,” released November 30, 2007, pp. iii.
RETURN ON INVESTMENT: ISF CAPACITY BUILDING
How far has the American investment of $20 billion dollars gone?
According to GAO, the number of Iraqi military and police personnel trained and equipped increased from over 171,000 in July 2005 to about 359,600 in September 2007. This 359,600 figure breaks down as 165,400 Ministry of Defense and 194,200 Ministry of Interior personnel, although there is currently no reliable data concerning how many of these personnel are still serving with the Ministry of Interior. (GAO 5)
The Ministry of Interior is a corruption-plagued institution. Its so-called Facilities Protection Service functions more as an oil protection militia for Shiite sectarian elements. In fact, the Ministry of Interior is so dangerous that when Western officials visit its headquarters near Sadr City, they often wear body armor and travel only under heavily armored escort. (Jones Commission 86-88) The Jones Commission characterized the Ministry of Interior as “a ministry in name only” which is “widely regarded as being dysfunctional and sectarian, and suffers from ineffective leadership.” (Jones Commission 17)
GAO expands on this diagnosis in its report, detailing that the Ministry of Interior has hired a significant number of police beyond those trained by the United States. According to testimony by a former Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq commander, the Ministry of Interior’s payroll accounts for about 60,000 to 74,000 more personnel than the number trained and equipped by the United States. The commander also stated that approximately 20 percent of this overage is “ghosts,” or personnel whose names appear on the Ministry of Interior’s payroll but who are not actually serving. (GAO 16) The danger here, of course, is that the Ministry of Interior is overseeing the arming and equipping of renegade sectarian elements by siphoning off money from accounts established for Iraqi Security Forces development.
Sectarian infiltration is also a problem in the Iraqi National Police. A former Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq commander described the National Police as the “single most sectarian organization in Iraq,” a stunning characterization considering Ministry of Interior’s abysmal record. Since January 2007, Iraq’s government was forced to replace 70 percent of National Police senior commanders due to rampant sectarianism, expulsions that included two division, seven brigade, and 17 battalion commanders. (GAO 13-14)
Finally, GAO details an alarming lack of trained noncommissioned officers in the Iraqi Army. As of July 2007, the Iraqi Army was short 18,000 corporals, 14,500 sergeants, and 7,500 sergeants first class. (GAO 11) Senior noncommissioned officers are the backbone of any army since they lead the small 10-man squads that actually engage in combat operations. If the Iraqis cannot recruit, train, and retain these indefatigable noncommissioned officers, the institution risks becoming either bottom- or top-heavy and losing the personnel that acts as liaison between grunts and officers.
The latest GAO report raises further questions about the long-term sustainability of security progress in Iraq. The inability of the Iraqi Security Forces to function without support from the United States raises serious concerns about Iraq’s future sovereignty and ability to independently guide its own internal security affairs.
IRAQI FORCES’ PROBLEMS IN THE LARGER CONTEXT
In June 2007, the surge of an additional 30,000 U.S. combat troops into Iraq was completed.. By several important measurements, there has been a net increase in security since the surge was initiated. The administration claims this is almost exclusively due to the surge, but more objective analysts note some important caveats .
For instance, the much-heralded “Anbar Awakening,” which saw tens of thousands of Sunnis abandon their support for the terrorist group Al Qaeda in Iraq and instead begin cooperating with coalition security forces, was largely an indigenous movement that was more a reaction to prolonged exposure to Al Qaeda extremism than any overriding desire to cooperate with U.S. forces because they were the “good guys.” If Sunnis are only cooperating with U.S. forces to gain a short term strategic advantage, a change in the security context in Iraq in the future – such as a spectacular attack by Shiite militia elements – may lead Sunnis to abandon their cooperation with the United States and pursue their own sectarian interests against their Shiite assailants.
In short, any trumpeting of recent success in Iraq should be taken with a grain of salt. The Bush administration has twisted intelligence and progress reports on the war in the past, most notoriously in the lead up to the invasion, and seems to be up to its old tricks when declaring “Mission Accomplished” for the surge.
Trends in Iraq consistently have been contradictory. Just because they go the way of the United States for awhile doesn’t mean we can ignore and erase the failures of the past six years. Serious doubts remain over whether truly independent Iraqi Security Forces will emerge, and, most importantly, the degree to which Iraqi lawmakers will use militarily-attained breathing space to pass and implement the legislation required for Iraq to function as a relatively stable, self-sufficient nation.
Acting with urgency to reach the endgame in Iraq remains the primary challenge. Proceeding with cautious skepticism is the only realistic modus operandi now and in the future.